The Savannah Bananas' Jesse Cole talks how to please fans at the ballpark

Ballpark Digest Broadcaster Chats

Nov 16 2021 • 33 mins

The 2021 Ballpark Digest Awards season continues with a chat with the Savannah Bananas’ Jesse Cole, winner of an Editor’s Choice Award, who is single-handedly working to bring fun and a new spirit back into the increasingly staid world of baseball.

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler and Kevin Reichard discuss the 2021 season with the ever-energetic Cole, the Man in the Yellow Tux. In a year when the baseball world is struggling to attract younger fans and shorten games, the Savannah Bananas struck a nerve with those younger fans. Attracting capacity crowds to Savannah’s Grayson Stadium and embarking on a sold-out One City World Tour, Cole and his team upend all the rules of baseball a la the Harlem Globetrotters, attracting new fans to the sport thanks to plenty of national coverage from the likes of ESPN, Boston Globe and USA Today. That success has led to an Editor’s Choice Award in the 2021 Ballpark Digest Awards

Some highlights of the discussion:

·      Cole and his wife Emily launched the Bananas in 2016, coming to Georgia after running the Gastonia Grizzlies, formerly in the Coastal Plain League. The emphasis, they decided, would be on plenty of entertainment in the stands, with all-inclusive food and drink. After a slow start—two ticket sales in the first three months—the pair decided to go all-in on the entertainment side, a bet that paid off in a big way with sellout crowds, attracting fans from every state in the union. That led to Banana Ball, unique variations on the rules of baseball.

·      Flush with that success at home, the Bananas took their show on the road for the One City World Tour, resulting in two sold-out games at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala. That success is leading to a longer World Tour in March 2022, featuring stops at spring-training, MiLB and MLB Partner League ballparks. The pro team hits the road and plays Banana Ball (which Jesse explains); the summer-collegiate team plays by normal baseball rules and snared a 2021 Coastal Plain League championship.

·      Though the Bananas received plenty of mainstream media coverage, the key to the team’s success means reaching fans where they are—and that means social media like TikTok, where the Bananas have 912,000 followers. What they get isn’t a traditional social-media menu of game highlights and game-winning hits, but rather game highlights like infield karaoke, batters competing on stilts, and batters introducing themselves when coming up to bat. Yes, it’s silly and more than a little absurdist, but it’s entertaining as all heck. Anyone who hates batflips will be flummoxed; anyone who loves some flash in their baseball game will be entranced.

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is Voice of the Lansing Lugnuts and author of The Baseball Thesaurus and the upcoming second edition of The Football Thesaurus, both from August Publications. Kevin Reichard is editor of Ballpark Digest and founder/publisher at August Publications.